A New Light on Bernard Berenson: Persian Paintings from Villa I Tatti

, University Research Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Chess versus Backgammon, illustrated folio from an Anthology of Persian Treatises, Afghanistan, Herat, Timurid period, 1427. Ink, colors, silver, and gold on paper. Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence. Photo: Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies; © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

University Research Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

This focused exhibition features illustrated Persian manuscripts and detached folios that were collected in the early 20th century by Harvard alumnus Bernard Berenson (1865–1959), the famous American art historian and connoisseur of Italian Renaissance painting. Berenson prized these works at his home in Florence, Villa I Tatti, which he bequeathed to Harvard and which now serves as the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. The exhibition offers the first opportunity to see these works outside Villa I Tatti.

Works in the exhibition are grouped according to the style in which each was created between the 14th and 17th centuries in Iran and Central Asia. Berenson’s important 15th-century Timurid manuscript will be displayed in an unbound state as part of an ongoing conservation and rebinding process. The show will also include additional related works from the Harvard Art Museums, the Morgan Library and Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. These works were collected by close associates of Berenson who shared his enthusiasm for Persian painting, at a time when this area of art was gaining considerable prestige among collectors.

The exhibition sheds important new light on Berenson’s little-known and understudied Persian collection, highlighting current research from various scholars on Berenson’s collecting interests and the artistic and cultural significance of the objects.

Curated by Aysin Yoltar-Yildirim, Assistant Curator for Islamic and Later Indian Art at the Harvard Art Museums.

This exhibition is supported in part by the Sydney Freedberg Director’s Fund.

Related Programming
Information about related events, including a Materials Lab Workshop on Islamic papermaking on March 8, an Art Study Seminar on April 28, a series of gallery talks, and an Art Study Center Open Hours session dedicated to the museums’ history of collecting and exhibiting Persian art, can be found on our calendar.

Index magazine
Stories related to A New Light on Bernard Berenson can be found in the museums’ Index magazine. Click on the “exhibition” tag at magazine.harvardartmuseums.org.